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Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan Sri Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadesikan
Birth Star: Panguni Pusam (Pushyam)
śrīmad vedānta rāmānuja-muni karunā-labdha vedānta-yugmaṁ
śrīmad śrīvāsa yogīśvara guru-padayor-arpita svātma-bhāraṁ
śrīmad śri rañganāthāhvaya muni-krupayā prāpta mokśāśramaṁ taṁ
śrīmad vedānta rāmānuja-munima-paraṁ samśraye deśikendraṁ
“I seek refuge in our acharya Srimad Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadesikan (Thirukkudanthai Andavan) who studied ubhaya-vedhanta-granthas (the sacred texts of the dual-Vedanta) under the holy feet of Srimad Nammandavan; who had his bhara-samarpanam (ritual surrender) conducted by Srimad Akkur Andavan; and who was ordained into the renunciate order of sannyasa by the grace and benediction of Srimad Thenbirai Andavan.”
Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan Sri Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadesikan was born in a small hamlet called Karaikudi, situated next to Thirukkandiyur in Tanjore district on the banks of the river Kaveri in the year 1907 to Sri. U.Ve. Padmanabhachariar and Srimati Komalavalli Devi. He was born under the auspicious star of Pushyam in the Tamil month of Panguni. At birth, he was formally given the name Srinivasa Raghavan. His parents fondly called him Kannan. Hence he became more popularly known as Sri Kannan Swami during his purvashrama days.
His father was a parama-ekanti and had the full blessings of his acharya. He used to visit Srimad Andavan Periashramam in Srirangam regularly to participate in the parayana-ghoshtis (assembly of scholars chanting Vedic mantras) for all major Sri Vaishnava festivals.
At that time, Srimad Kadandethi Andavan was adorning the acharya-pitham of the Andavan Ashramam. He was a great saint who was an exponent of yogic shastras, and possessed divine mantric powers with full and direct blessings of Lord Sri Hayagriva.
It was in the year 1907 during the Masi Pushyam thirunakshatram celebrations of Srimad Periandavan, that Srimad Kadanthethi Andavan summoned two great personalities to speak to them: Sri. U.Ve. Padmanabhachariar Swami and Sri. U.Ve. Eyunni Varadachar Swami (who later became Srimad Nammandavan). He told Sri Padmanabhachar Swami that he would have a son who would be born under the star of Pushyam. He also told Sri. Varadachar Swami that he would have a son who would be born under the start of Hastham. As predicted by Srimad Andavan, both of them had sons born under the same janma-nakshatrams.
Sri Kannan Swami was born five years after his sister passed away. Hence, his parents nurtured him with excessive care and complete attention. Sri Kannan Swami would accompany his father to Srirangam Periashramam, the main seat of the Andavan Ashramam, several times every year.
After his return to Thirukkudanthai, the young Kannan Swami would play a game with other young boys, in which he would don the role of an acharya. He would tie his clothes up to his knee and carry a stick to resemble the dress of a renunciate tridandi-sannyasi. He would proclaim himself as Srimad Andavan and act like a sannyasi. He would carry water inside a dried coconut shell and distribute it to the other boys in the same manner as he had watched Srimad Therazhandur Andavan distribute theertham, with both his eyes focussed in one direction. He played these games without the knowledge of his father.
When Kannan Swami was ten, his infant brother who was just 10 months passed away due to an illness. After this, his father became even more protective of him.
Sri Kannan Swami had so much respect for his father that he would not stand in front of him. Even the thought of speaking face-to-face with his father was very daunting for him. Hence his friends too would not visit him when his father was present, because everyone respected his father in the community.
But young Kannan Swami had limitless devotion and affection for Sri Aravamudhan the presiding Divya-desham deity of Thirukkudanthai. However, his father would not allow him to take part in the festivals freely like other children: hence, he was not even allowed to have a dip in the Kaveri like other children. Even when Kannan Swami set out to participate in certain festivals such as Theppotsavam, his father would send his mother immediately to escort him back home. Later, Sri Kannan Swami had often mentioned to his well-wishers that he may have had more freedom as a child if his brother had continued to live.
However, whatever restrictions were imposed on Kannan Swami outside the house were more than made up by what his father taught him at home. Sri Padmamabachar Swami personally taught him the four thousand Divya-prabandhams of the azhwars. Before the age of fourteen, Kannan Swami had already mastered the entire Divya-prabandham, and became a leading member of the adhyapaka-ghosti and a dear servant of Sri Aravamudhan, who is considered to be ‘Dravida-sruti-darshakan’ (the Lord who reveals the Dravida-veda or the Divya-prabandhas). He also learned many Vedic shastras under the tutelage of Sri Seshasayee in Kottaiyur.
Later, Sri Padmamabachar Swami sent his son to Raja Patashala in Kamakshi Josyar Street, where he learnt different shastras. He also studied tarka, mimamsa and vyakarana under Devanagar Vilaga Swami. His fellow student was Sri Seshadhriyachar, the son of the famous U. Ve. Navaneetham Swami. He also qualified for Sanskrit Shiromani from ThiruvaiyAru Sanskrit college.
Whenever Srimad Kadanthethi Andavan (Nammandavan) or Srimad Akkur Andavan (Engalandavan) used to visit Thirukkudanthai during their respective times, Sri Kannan Swami would undertake kalakshepams of various shastras under their lotus feet. During one such visit, Srimad Engalandavan performed Sri Kannan Swami’s atma-samarpanam (the sacrament of ritual surrender) in the shrine of Aravamudhan Perumal at Thirukkudanthai. .
Sri Kannan Swami started performing many wonderful kainkaryams to Divya-desham perumals even before he had been anointed as Srimad Andavan. Sri Kannan Swami used to support an old woman who donated and made many gifts to various Divya-desham perumals by writing her books of accounts. The woman had gifted a golden ‘sarangam’ (bow) and golden thiruman-kappu for Sri Aravamudan. For Sri Thiruvinnagarappan, she had donated a golden garland made of tulasi and saligramam. Once she donated a 56 k.g silver armour (velli-kavacham) for Aravamudhan’s Garuda-vahanam (the Garuda mount on which the Lord was carried during festivals). After this particular service, the woman was fondly called ‘Garuda-vahana patti’ by the locals, and Kannan Swami considered it his good fortune to serve her during her divine kainkaryams to the Lord.Sri
Life as a Grihasta
At the age of 16, Sri Kannan Swami got married to Vedavalli Ammal, the sixth daughter of Neduntheru Sri Krishnaswamy Iyengar. After marriage, Sri Kannan Swami subsisted simply with the sambhavanais (honorarium) he received by delivering upanyasams.
Sri Kannan Swami used to visit Thanjavur every Sunday to render kalakshepams on Gita Bhashyam every Sunday at the Gita Sabha run by Sri Rangaswami Iyengar. He would return back the same day to Thirukkudanthai by bus or train. If he got delayed, his father would rush to the bus strand or railway station, and wait for him to return. The moment his father would spot him alighting from the train or bus, he would feel relieved and return home silently. As soon as Sri Kannan Swami would reach home, his mother would eagerly serve his dinner. Both his parents showered him with unselfish love and unparalleled affection. In a few years, Sri Kannan Swami and Srimati Vedavalli Ammal had four sons and two daughters.
Around this time, U.Ve. Ramaswamy Iyengar started an organisation called ‘Parnkusha Bhakta Sabha’ in Thirukkudanthai to spread the principles of vishishtadvaita. Sri Kannan Swami and his friend Sri Elayavalli Swami worked for the Sabha for a long time. He released a magazine through the Sabha and published rare works of our philosophy. He often used to visit places such as Pudukottai to participate in different vidvat-sadas (scholarly conferences).
His financial condition was quite weak at that time with a large family to maintain. One of his friends, Pidil Raja Manickam Pillai helped Sri Kannan Swami to travel to Thiruvananthapuram. There, he showed his prowess in a vidvat-sadas organised by the Mahraja of Trvancore, and received a gold medal and a sambhavanai for his contributions.
After his father’s demise, Kannan Swami took the blessings of his acharya, and decided to move to Chennai. Srimad Akkur Andavan sent a note to Sri. U.Ve. A.S. Varadachar Swami, who was a kumkum manufacturer, to help Kannan Swami and make use of his extraordinary knowledge in sampradayik matters.
Move to Chennai
Akkur Varadachar Swami requested Sri Kannan Swamy to stay in his house in Chennai, from where he would travel all over the city to speak at kalakshepams that he would arrange. Initially, the opportunities to speak were few, and he would mostly substitute for another Swami if he had cancelled his scheduled upanyasam at the last minute. With great resolution, he carried on his kainkaryams, even though his family was still in Thirukkudanthai and had to endure many hardships.
Style of Upanyasam
At that time Sri Kannan Swami’s contemporaries in upanyasams were great stalwarts such as Karppangadu Venkatachariar Swami and Kanchi Vidwan Prativadhi Bhayankaram Anangachariar However, with the grace of his purvacharyas and the divya-dampatis, Sri Kannan Swami developed a distinct and inimitable style that mesmerised listeners and had them clamouring for more.
His revolutionary style of delivery used soft and pleasing words blended with wit and humour. He decorated his uypanyasams with intricate and rare internal meanings collected from Srimad Akkur Andavan’s upanyasams on the Ramayana and the commentaries of purvacharyas on the Divya-prabandhams. Sri Kannan Swami’s mellifluously soft voice felt sweeter than honey. Even though his words were filled with wit and funny references, they would never hurt anyone. He could make the listeners understand the most complicated matters in a very simple language full of practical examples. He could easily change his style and content based on the mood of the people in the audience.
His talks which provided with such rare insights ignited instant interest and kindled joyful anubhavams in the hearts and minds of thousands of listeners, who came from far and wide to feel blessed in his presence. Sri Kannan Swami would always begin and end the upanyasams on time as he was very punctual. But his audience would always become rapturous at the end of the upanyasam and demand an extension. Most of them felt greatly fortunate for such a rare opportunity, and sorry that it had come to a close. Hence, they would arrive very early the next day to find a place close to the dias and hear his words more attentively. Such was Sri Kannan Swami’s purity and prowess in attracting devotees of the Lord from a young age.
Sri Kannan Swami’s Thiruppavai upanyasams were especially popular and attracted large crowds. By this time, he started receiving invitations for delivering upanyasams at several places. He went dutifully to most places to quench the spiritual thirst of the devout in various localities such as Mowbrays Road and Ambattur. He conducted a daily morning lecture every day without fail at Bazullah Road Samaj.
Since he had to rush to so many places all over the city, he procured a car to help perform his kainkaryams on time. Every day, he would also discourse on the Rahasya-traya-saram at Egmore Saketa Nilayam, and conduct weekly lectures in other places such as Chindhadhirippettai, and Lakshmipuram. He would also visit Srirangam frequently to offer respects and prayers to Srimad Andavan and perform various karinkaryams at the Periashramam.
Kumkumam Varadachar Swami helped Sri Kannan Swami purchase a house in Baroda Street, Chennai, after which his family relocated from Thirukkudanthai to Chennai in 1950. He used to travel widely during these days to spread the glories of vishishtadvaita siddhanta, and earned the goodwill and affection of thousands of people everywhere. Despite his hectic schedule and wide travels, he would always adhere to his anushthanams and adhyananams. During these times of travel, a bhagavata named Vecumsee Sri. P.V.Rajagopalachar Swami would take care of Sri Kannan Swami’s family in the most helpful manner.
Sri Kanan Swami provided good education to his children as a dutiful parent, and his grihasthashrama was a truly blessed one. He purchased a second house in Unnamalai Amman street in Kodambakkam, but would still not move into the new house as he would often say that Yama (the demigod of death) would never dare to enter the old house.
Sri Kannan Swami’s deep-rooted acharya-bhakti prompted him to visit Srirangam several times to seek the personal blessings of Srimad Thenbirai Andavan, who had ascended the acharya-pitam at that time. Later, Srimad Thenbirai Andavan commanded him to stay in Srirangam and look after the administrative affairs of the Srimad Andavan Ashramam as its Srikaryam.
As the Srikaryam, Sri Kannan Swami organized the 160th birth anniversary celebrations of Srimad Periandavan in a grand manner under the holy orders of Srimad Andavan. He was assisted most ably by Sri Chitrakootam Vijayaraghavachariar Swami in performing his responsibilities.
In 1963, Srimad Thenbarai Andavan became weak and emaciated due to his strict dietary regulations and age, and wanted to nominate a worthy successor. He had been very pleased with Sri Kannan Swami’s jnanam (spiritual knowledge), unassuming acharya bhakti, pleasant demeanour, rigorous observance of anushtanams, and great administrative skills. Thus he informed Sri Kannan Swami that he should adorn the acharya pitam as his successor. Sri Kannan Swami’s response was neutrail as he did not communicate an opinion either for or against the proposal. However, Srimad Andavan considered this to be a positive signal and felt Sri Kannan Swami would indeed succeed him.
After returning back to Chennai, Sri Kannan Swami kept constantly meditating on the decree of the acharya. He was initially in a dilemma due to the circumstances of his family, and this dilemma grew larger with the passing of time.
One day after his bath, Sri Kannan Swami went into a room to retrieve his Thiruppariyattam (veshti) which was hung high on a metal dangler. Sri Kannan Swami reached out to retrieve his clothes from the line, while wearing a wet robe around his waist with a stick in his hand.
At that time, his youngest son saw his father in this posture, and told him that it reminded him of the presiding Shankaracharya who had come to his school earlier that day. Their teacher had requested everyone to bring a donation of 4 annas to donate to the Shankaracharya. His son reminded his father about the donation, and wondered why the teacher had asked everyone to donate in that manner.
His father informed the son that the school would buy fruits and other gifts for the Shankaracharya as he was a sannyasi. He also confided to his son at that time, that he himself would also become a sannyasi soon.
The young boy immediately asked the father who would look after him and buy his fruits if the father became a sannyasi. Sri Kannan Swami informed him that his elder brothers would look after all his needs in his absence, thus there was nothing to worry about. From this incident, it became clearly evident that Sri Kannan Swami was preparing himself firmly to accept the renunciate sannyasa order as per the holy orders of Srimad Thenbirai Andavan.
When Srimad Thenbirai Andavan grew weaker in 1963, he gave preksha-mantram (a prerequisite for accepting sannyasa) and mokshashrama-ahnika-anushthanam (rules for observing the order of sannyasa) to three great scholars of the Ashramam: U.Ve. Sri. Kannan wami, U.Ve. Sri. Mysore Gopalachar Swami ( who later became Srimad Mysore Andavan and succeeded Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan) and Mannargudi Ganapati Vidwan U.Ve. Sri. Narasimhacharya Swami, so that they could be ready to accept sannyasa any time when called.
One day in April 1963, after a particularly serious relapse of his health, Srimad Andavan informed his shishyas: “Yesterday I almost went to Viraja nadi, but had to come back to bhulokam upon Emperuman’s orders so that I could nominate the successor for the acharya pitam of this Ashamam. But this Kannan hasn’t come here, yet”.
Two days before this, Sri. Kannan Swami’s son Sri Gopalan had a dream in which Srimad Thenbirai Andavan had appeared to him and told him that he had just returned from Viraja nadi, and he should inform his father to return immediately to Srirangam and take up sannyasa. After this dream, Sri Gopalan assured his father that he would take care of his mother, and requested his father to proceed immediately to Srirangam.
On April 4th 1963, Srimad Thenbirai Andavan’s condition worsened and many sishyas started arriving at the Ashramam. When Srikaryam Sri Kannan Swami arrived, arrangements were immediately made for his acceptance of sannyasa.
Early morning on 5th April, 1963 on the tithi (lunar day) of Shukla Dvadashi under the nakshatram of Makam, in the presence of thousands of sishyas and abhimanis, Srimad Thenbirai Andavan ordained the ascetic order to Sri U.Ve. Kannan Swami who was named, Srimad Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadesikan (known popularly as Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan).
Srimad Thenbirai Andavan felt great happiness to have appointed his successor and gave him the title of “Ubhaya Vedanta Grantha Upadeshati Sampradaya Samrakshana Thurvahar’. Within a few hours on the same day, Srimad Thenbirai Andavan departed to adorn thirunadu, leaving behind thousands of grieving shishyas.
The Srimad Andavan Ashramam grew by leaps and bounds under the illustrious acharya Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan with the support of many disciples. It can be declared safely that Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan was the most popular yati amongst all members of the Vaishnavite fold during his times.
He was such a great scholar and exponent of different shastras and suktis including nyaya, vyakarana, Divya-prabandham, Ramayana and Bhagavad-vishayam that everyone used to wonder if he was an avatara of Thirumangai Azhwar himself.
Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan had not taken to the ascetic order out of the compulsions of poverty, but after casting away a life of wealth and prosperity. Yet, he immediately assimilated a highly puritan lifestyle with strict austerity by scorning all luxuries, in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors. The manner by which Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan could swing from one end of the pendulum filled with conveniences and comforts to the other end, shorn of all luxuries and convenience to adopt a rigorous life of voluntary detachment and extreme rigidity is a matter of great wonder.
Even though Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan had travelled everywhere in a car before he had accepted sannyasa, he now travelled only by foot. One month after the acceptance of sannyasa, he started on a holy pilgrimage from one place to another, covering around 15 miles a day.
Everywhere he went, he would discourse with humour, geniality, and penetrating perceptions of shashtra and the holy lives of avataras, azhvars and acharyas to an adoring public, just like Srimad Therazhundhur Andavan had done in the past. He attracted not only the rich and powerful, and the scholarly and educated, but also a great mass of devotees from the general population, and many thousands of youngsters, who became ready to surrender to the Lord, and serve the holy cause.
Observance of Anushtanams
Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan set a strict daily morning schedule that is still followed at the Srimad Andavan Ashramam even today. He would get up every day as early as 4 A.M. After his avagaha-snanam he would do his japams, sandhyavandanam, bhagavat-aradhanam and Thirupavai sattrumurai. After these ceremonies, he would personally distribute paduka-teertham to the vaishnava ghoshti that had assembled. At this time, the thanians of all the purvacharyas would be recited, followed by Bhagavad Ramanuja’s Gadya Trayam. The ghosti would also recite selected paddhatis of the Paduka-sahasram every day with Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan seated on the acharya-pitam.
Just as Bharathazhwar protected his people and took care of them while praying every day to Lord Rama’s padukas, Srimad Andavan prayed and protected his disciples by offering aradhana every day to the padukas of purvacharyas and chanting Paduka Sahasram every day. After this, they would conduct bharanyasam and samashrayanam ceremonies every day for the shishyas who had assembled there for that purpose.
Srimad Andavan was the personification of saulabhyam and easily approachable. He would inquire about the well-being of sishyas and admirers alike with great affection and care. He had an astonishing memory, and could easily remember every disciple’s family lineage even after a single previous meeting that had occurred many years before.
Previously, the Srimad Andavan Ashramam offered thadiyaradhanai or free traditional meals, only on special or festive days. However, Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan ordered that the Ashramam should provide thadiyaradhanai every day. Wherever Srimad Andavan was travelling for his sancharam – a city, a forest or a mountain – thadiyraradhanai would always be served without fail everyday.
Sometimes, Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan would also conduct upanyasams in the evening besides the morning ones. However, he would personally teach Divya-prabandham chanting to children living in the ashramam every day in the evening.
Sancharam and the Padukas
Srimath Thirukkudanthai Andavan travelled over 30000 kilometres by foot from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas. He covered the length and breadth of the country several times, and set up Ashramams in all parts of the country, including several places which were far from South India.
The purvacharyas of the Srimad Andava Ashramam such as Srimad Periandavan, Sri Nammandavan and Sri Akkur Andavan had also travelled to many places such as Melkote, Mysore, Kanchi, Ariyukudi and Sethu on foot.
They had followed an elaborate procedure for respecting the padukas of the purvacharyas during these travels. At no time could the padukas be kept on the ground. Instead, each kainkaryapara would carry them on a special palm-leaf box placed on their heads. If they needed to hand them to another person, they would wait patiently for the other person to arrive before letting the other person continue carrying the padukas on their heads. When they stopped for the day, the padukas could only be kept in a clean place on the banks of a river or a pushkarani. All other parapharnelia required for cooking and aradhana would be carried in a separate conveyance. Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan observed the same procedure during his sancharam trips.
Later, a van was purchased in which they kept a ‘pallaku’ with a tholukkiniyan containing separate compartments to carry each paduka.
It was during the time of Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan that the Srimad Andavan Ashramam grew by leaps and bounds throughout the country. This was truly a golden period in the annals of the Ashramam.
Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan constructed more than twenty-five Ashramams throughout the country. He conducted hundreds of samprokshanams, yajnams, homams, vidvat sadas and went on many sancharams and vijaya yatras all over India.
Srimad Thirukkudanthai Andavan observed twenty-five chaturmasyams between 1963 and 1989. He departed to adorn thirunadu in April 1989 on Panguni Shukla Panchami of Vibhava, leaving behind thousands of grieving disciples and admirers, whose divine anubhavams with His Holiness remain etched in their hearts forever.